Does music actually strengthen the mind? Many studies have implied that music appreciation can actually improve brain function and intelligence.
Throughout the country, students who perform in school bands consistently score higher grade-point averages, and even senior citizens who play musical instruments maintain a distinctly stronger brain function than their non-musical peers. Studies have suggested that exposing a child to music early in their lives can positively impact their IQ, reading level, and brain development. Adults who learn an instrument also benefit greatly due to heightened alertness, elevated activity, and the overall joy it can bring to their daily routine.
Research has also proven that playing a musical instrument will create positive effects in the brains anatomy. In fact, more and more evidence is suggesting that the brains of musicians' are structurally different from the brains of those who don't play an instrument. This difference is remarkably noticeable in the parts of the brain where music is processed, and learning to play an instrument can greatly change the brains neurophysiology, regardless of age.
Through countless studies, theories have been confirmed that performing music strengthens a person's brain function, and improves their capability of hearing all sounds, including speech. Researchers at Northwestern University conducted a study that involved measuring the neural responses of volunteers who were given snippets of language they were unfamiliar with while viewing movies. Those with backgrounds in music could track the language considerably better than their non-musical counterparts.
During this study, a very compelling detail in the experiment involved discoveries in the areas of the brain that were stimulated. Music was always thought to be processed in the cerebral cortex, the same area of the brain that houses higher functions like thought, reasoning and language. What researchers discovered was that the brainstem – once thought to be too primitive to handle complex processes – was actually engaged in interaction with the cortex when sounds were being listened to. What this suggests is that music affects people on a much deeper level than previously thought.
The positive effect that music has on the mind is so strong, music study is now being recommended by researchers to be used for therapeutic improvement of memory, language, and mood. With the positive influence that music has on the same areas of the brain involving memory and language, it's more than reasonable to assume that a connection between music study and thinking ability in the young (as well as rehabilitation in adults) is possible.
Donald A. Hodges, director of the Music Research Institute at the University Of North Carolina says, "Nothing activates as many areas of the brain as music. Music makes you smarter because it helps you understand yourself as a human being and your relationship to the world."
Other studies suggest that providing kids with opportunities to connect with music as both listeners and performers can greatly benefit their mental skills. In a 1993 experiment, it was a misinterpreted claim that the music of Mozart lead directly to a higher IQ in the subjects exposed to his compositions. However, later studies did confirm that classical music can briefly heighten one's senses of space and time. The stimulation of these senses is still beneficial, for it can be considered a great exercise for the brain. Hodges continues, "The brain: use it or lose it. The more education you have, the more interconnections in the brain."
Although the conclusion of the "Mozart Effect" study was later confirmed to be a misinterpretation, the researcher of those experiments, Frances Rauscher, Ph.D., eventually did work proving that after eight months of music keyboard lessons, the spatial reasoning IQ of preschool children was boosted by 46%, improving their ability to do math.
Since the late 90's, The College Board continually reports that music students regularly surpass their non-musical peers on the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT). Scores that are frequently achieved by college-bound high school seniors involved with music include 37 points higher on the math section, and 52 points higher on the verbal SAT compared to non-music students.
Dartmouth music psychologist Petr Janata published research in the journal Science where he confirmed that music has a greater effect than any other stimulus to enhance connections between the brains right and left hemispheres, as well as the areas where memories and emotions develop.
So can it be said that music has a positive influence on a person's intelligence? The answer is a definite "Yes".